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Notes from the Inc. 500 Conference: Thomas Friedman

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I've taken a couple days to clear out my voice-mails and e-mails with inquiries to your Inc. 500 Project Manager about this year's list. (No, it's not too late to get in the running for this year--if you think you might make it, e-mail me with your 2002-2005 revenues now--especially you alumni!), Now, before we start to review your secondary applications in earnest, I thought it would be a good time to post some of my impressions from the Savannah Inc. 500 conference.

Friday's lunch saw us rushing from our breakout sessions into Exhibit Hall A, a cavernous aircraft-hangar-like room that must have been the size of two football fields. We encountered hundreds of people we hadn't seen before in mid-prayer. Our speaker, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat, had been booked for the conference by more than a dozen local organizations and educational institutions, including the Savannah Economic Development Authority, the Savannah College of Art and Design, and the Savannah Council of World Affairs. Attendees not with the Inc. 500 conference had bought tables for ten at $1000 a pop.

There may be no columnist working today more loved and reviled than Friedman. Admirers like his ability to boil complex global phenomena down to their essence; detractors think he indulges in hackneyed oversimplification.

I found my take on his talk pretty much the opposite of Mike Faith's: I don't bother to read him--I find his columns generally sensible but uninspiring. But his oratorical style, which would be ripe for a Saturday Night Live parody if he was well-known enough as a speaker, is, I think, quite enjoyable. One of his introducers indicated that there was a sign at the podium saying "Speak slowly--this room has a lot of echoes." No problem for Tom. He has a way of delivering Every...Single....Nugget of a Concept....as if it were....AMAZING....REVOLUTIONARY....and as if it....CHANGES EVERY ASPECT.....of Life As We Know It....ON THIS PLANET! And he's pretty good at making (some of) us believe it. One Inc. editor thought Friedman didn't say anything that wasn't completely obvious to anyone who had been reading newspapers for the past ten years. Maybe. But he condenses the important stuff, then condenses it some more, and then hammers it home. I won't go into the ten world-flatteners that made up the heart of his speech here; they're nicely summed up in this review. One Inc. 500 CEO said he was pretty familiar with the first five but he found the second five to be real eye-openers.

Last updated: Apr 5, 2006




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